‘God….when we’re leaving work I keep looking at her out of the corner of my eye sitting there next to me as I’m driving. I get a hard on.’
‘Yeah? Aren’t you a bit old for her, Vic?’ I replied.
‘I don’t care.’ He paused for a few seconds, playing an image in his mind. ‘You know, sometimes I think about raping her.’
‘I think about just pulling the car over somewhere quiet and raping her.’
And so that conversation ended. We were sitting in a work canteen in the hot summer of 1992. I was 18 and this was a shitty summer job at a bottle packing plant. It paid £1.09 an hour. I had to pack thirty thousand coke bottles into crates every day. Me and my work partner held the factory record – one hundred and fifteen thousand bottles packed between us in an eight hour shift. We weren’t proud. It was back breaking dirty work, but when you finished each afternoon you were too tired to go spend the money, so things mounted up until the weekends. Then I’d get wasted for two days.
The plant employed around a hundred men and women. It was the last stop before unemployment made sense in all ways. The employees were either elderly, infirm, or had some form of learning difficulties that were, as yet, undiagnosed. Then there were the drifters and the chancers – too slack to get a proper job, or fired from everything else up the ladder so they eventually slid back down into this cesspool. Nobody laughed, talking was banned, and the radio played over the sound of clinking glass at a volume where you could never tell what was on.
Vic was about late fifties. He had a big belly and smelled like cabbages. The girl he had been talking about was my age, pretty, and unaware of Vic’s fantasies. This had been a tough conversation to be a part of. Afterwards I felt dirty, complicit in a crime. I went to the girl and told her to watch herself with Vic when he gave her a lift. She laughed, but I noticed her at the bus stop after work that day. She took the bus home every day after that.
Vic never managed to get his hard on near her. I was sure he’d die soon of a heart attack anyhow. It was the kind of karmic justice I thought only right in his case. Painful death for Vic, and the people who had filled the toilet walls with at least a thousand wiped bogeys, bits of shit and, a few times, long dribbles of sperm. There was no hope in that place. Everybody had given up theirs a long time ago. It was the way of things in an ex-mining town. Jobs were hard to come by and taking one as low paid as this meant swallowing some pride for many. And, if you aren’t careful, before you know it you’ve given up. I could walk away back into middle class safety and education, the others were doomed to wiping shit on the walls and talking about rape as if it were the same as playing football after work. There was no hope for the people who depended on that place to pay bills and put food on tables. Where was Orwell’s noble working class? Sure as shit wasn’t in there. These people were a step away from ripping women to shreds and eating the remains. Every morning I’d clock in and pray that I wouldn’t witness something worse than the day before. They were three long months.
I left at the end of the summer and went back to college sorer, slightly richer, but feeling sick to the stomach that I’d maybe seen a slice of the real world for the first time. And if that was the case then I didn’t fit into it. What had we come to as a society when we paid peanuts to people and put them into an unwinnable situation where they felt so out of kilter? Was every work place like this? Was my future heading in the direction of jacking off onto toilet walls? I was confused, but at least I had some spare cash. Two weeks after finishing my summer job I had spent every penny of the money I’d saved from working there on drugs and booze; a pathetic middle class boy. Some people would say that was a waste, but not me. I never had to go back to the factory and I used those two weeks to think of everything I’d learned about the real world. Those thoughts became, in time, a self fulfilling prophecy, a mantra of sorts. ‘No hope for any of us.’